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Sudanese professors arrested in Khartoum as protests continue

Demonstrations pose significant challenge to President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule
Sudanese protestors in the city of El-Obeid carrying a placard that reads: 'The country's soldier is a doctor' (Twitter\@Sd_Doctors)

Sudan's security forces have arrested more than a dozen professors who were staging a protest at Khartoum University, as mass demonstrations against the Sudanese government continue, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed first reported.

The Sudanese professors, carrying placards that read, "The solution is for the president to step down from power," marched down the main street in the capital on Tuesday.

Security forces arrested a group of 19 academics, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed said, while Reuters and AFP news agencies put the number of professors arrested at 14.

"Fourteen professors, eight from University of Khartoum and six from other universities, were on their way to take part in the sit-in when security agents took them away," Mamdouh Mohamed Hassan, from the University of Khartoum, told AFP.

Why are Sudanese protesting against their government?

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Hundreds of people have been taking to the streets of a series of towns and cities in Sudan since 19 December 2018 to protest a government decision to remove subsidies on wheat and electricity.

Sudan's economy has been struggling over the past decade with inflation spiking to around 70 percent over the past year alone.

This has caused the price of bread to double, cash shortages and salaries left unpaid. The austerity measures adopted by the government are part of larger economic reforms proposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The mobilisation on the ground against the price hikes - organised by a group known as the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) - found almost immediate resonance among opposition leaders, youth and women movements and rapidly turned into a larger show of discontent with 75-year-old President Omar al-Bashir. 

Protesters have been reportedly chanting "freedom, peace, justice” and “revolution is the people’s choice” as they march through the streets of the capital, Khartoum.

Sudan's armed forces have responded to protesters with tear gas and at times, live ammunition, mowing down at least 30 people, according to government figures.

Human Rights Watch, the international rights watchdog, says the death toll is closer to 51.

The protests have energised the Sudanese diaspora culminating in the biggest ever challenge to Bashir's rule since he took over the country in 1989.

Several other professors were also unable to participate in the sit-in after security agents closed the gates of the venue where they had gathered before heading out, the news agency reported.

Sudanese doctors and pharmacists also protested in front of the private hospitals in several cities on Tuesday.

The protests, which first erupted on 19 December and have taken place daily across the country, are led by the Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella group of doctors, engineers, teachers and other professionals.

While they started as a result of anger over the rising cost of bread, the demonstrations swiftly morphed into a widespread call for the resignation of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

With a central slogan of "Fall, that's all," the anti-government protests have been described as one of the most significant threats to Bashir’s 30-year rule.

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Over 1,000 people, including opposition leaders, activists, protesters and journalists, have been arrested since the protests broke out.

Rights groups say that more than 51 people have been killed in the protests, though Sudanese officials put that number at 31.

Last week, Bashir linked the protests to Sudan’s decades-old public order law, which activists say mainly targets women, often through accusations of "indecent dressing and immoral behaviour".

Bashir also acknowledged the economic hardship many Sudanese face.

He has so far resisted the calls to step down, saying that change can only come through the ballot box and blaming the unrest on unnamed foreign powers.

But he and some senior officials have adopted a more conciliatory tone in recent weeks and promised to free detained protesters.